It is not all unreasonable for the laundryman to require the customer claiming laundry to present a ticket because without it, locating the customer’s clothing is made difficult. Furthermore, someone might claim clothing that did not belong to them. But no Chinese laundryman would have used the phrase, “No tickee, no washee,” or its other forms, “No tickee, no laundee”, or “No tickee, no shirtee” to make this point. The phrase is just one example of the way whites often fabricated pidgin English terms to make fun of the difficulty Chinese had in pronouncing English.
No one is sure how the term arose but it may have started with the 1903 story by a humorist, Calvin Stewart, in which Uncle Josh takes his clothes to a Chinese laundry. The narrator of the tale relates that:
“ … he giv me a little yaller ticket that he painted with a brush what he had, and I’ll jist bet a yoke of steers agin the holler in a log, that no livin’ mortal man could read that ticket; it looked like a fly had fell into the ink bottle and then crawled over the paper.”
Confused, he asked a man what the ticket was and he was conned, “Wall sir that’s a sort of a lotery ticket; every time you leave your clothes thar to have them washed you git one of them tickets, and then you have a chance to draw a prize of some kind.” Not wanting to enter the lottery, Josh sold the “lottery ticket” to the stranger for 10 cents. “…and in a couple of days I went round to git my washin’, and that pig tailed heathen he wouldn’t let me hev em, coz I’d lost that lotery ticket. So I sed — now look here Mr. Hop Soon, if you don’t hop round and git me my collars and ciffs and other clothes what I left here, I’ll be durned if I don’t flop you in about a minnit, I will by chowder.”
This type of confrontation between customers and laundrymen over picking up laundry without presenting a ticket was not uncommon. In the story, it was Uncle Josh, and not the laundryman, who was in the wrong. But the story is used to disparage the unfortunate laundryman who receives the unwarranted pummeling from Josh.
“No tickee, no laundree” has since come to be used as a catch-phrase for an impasse in many conflicted transactions quite unrelated to the Chinese or laundries. Even so the term still casts a derogatory tone toward Chinese and it is unfortunate that it remains in use even as Chinese laundries have almost disappeared from society.
The derisive, joking attitude surrounding the “Chinese laundry ticket” reflects the peception in America that Chinese laundrymen in particular, and Chinese in general, are odd or even ‘inscrutable’.
Anti-Chinese sentiment was expressed graphically in posters, advertising, and other images as in this set of images using the Chinese laundryman as a symbolic representation of all Chinese immigrants.
Negative images of Chinese laundrymen were present in entertainment as illustrated by a 1930 animated Terry Toon, Chop Suey and a song about a Chinese laundryman having a “day off.”
A popular British vaudevillian, George Formsby, performed several mean-spirited and demeaning songs about a Chinese laundryman, Mr. Wu, who was sex-starved because like most of the Chinese immigrant men had to be bachelors due to immigration barriers for Chinese women or married men whose wives were back in China. In the song, Wu becomes a peeking Tom window washer looking intobedrooms to see women undressing.